How wonderful it is to have a day set aside from work and the normal routine to gather with family and friends to remember our blessings! For Christians in particular, Thanksgiving Day should be poignant and meaningful, in a way that goes beyond the sweet platitude of “an attitude of gratitude.” We must not fail to acknowledge the Person to whom we are giving thanks. We have so many things to thank God for. We thank him for family, for friends, for our church homes. We thank him for freedoms. We thank him for religious liberties that we still are able to enjoy here. We thank him for the blessing of a good job, of financial security, for good weather and good harvest. We give thanks for the sumptuous feast before us on the table, for the familiar faces of family and friends around the table with us. We thank him for health and gifts of prosperity. We thank him for successes. These are all things for which to thank God, by all means.
But there is a problem. We often spend our Thanksgiving cultivating gratitude for the temporal, the ephemeral. There’s nothing wrong with giving thanks for the temporary; after all every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17), so indeed, give thanks. But some, many, don’t enjoy many or any of those things that I listed. “What in the world do they have to be thankful for?” we may think in sorrow. Or, “What in the world do I have to be thankful for?” This is wrong thinking. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthian church proclaimed this: Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (II Corinthians 4:16-18) If we know Christ and have the hope of Heaven, we have everything to be thankful for. Everything, that is, being God himself. For if we are in Christ, isn’t he our everything? And if he isn’t, shouldn’t he be? Circumstances of life may devastate us. Thanksgiving Day may be a day of heartbreak for many. But with an eternal hope, a hope that is realized beyond the grave, beyond pain and sorrow and hardship and trials, how much we have to be thankful for! All of this life is so temporary and so short. All the sorrow (and all the joy!) we experience in this life will be nothing compared with the resurrection joy, the eternal joy, the Heavenly joy of our future home. Tomorrow we could be stripped of our family by death. But the command and truth remain: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever (1 Chronicles 16:34). This sentiment was sung by Asaph and other ministering musicians appointed by King David to bless the Lord before God’s people, and this sentiment is echoed again and again throughout the Psalms. With this as a model, we should thank God, for he is good. Really, nothing else matters, except that God is God, and he is good. The secure job could be taken away: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. You or your loved one could receive a diagnosis of cancer or another terrifying illness: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Your small business could fail, cattle prices plummet destructively, crops could be destroyed by hail or drought, your home taken away through fire or flood: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Your spouse could die, your children could turn away from their faith, your wife could miscarry: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. My point isn’t to sound a bell of doom and mourning, or to make light of any tragedy. These are events that devastate families on a daily basis. The early church itself faced grief, persecution, loss, death, trials of kinds we in America can only imagine, and many trials we can too easily imagine. And yet they were commanded: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). And only can we do this through the hope of what is to come, the hope of purpose beyond what we can see with our eyes. For we are also told, Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). And in Isaiah: He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces (Isaiah 25:8).
The James 1 passage continues: Every good and perfect gift is from above….He chose to give us birth through the word of truth…. (James 1:17-18). This is the manifestation of his love toward us, that While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). We are to thank God for his glorious Gift of Salvation through the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God in the Flesh, God Incarnate, the Son of Mary, the Son of God. This is truly the most glorious Gift! God created mankind to glorify himself, and for mankind to enjoy fellowship with God. In Genesis 3, we are told that he walked in the Garden in the cool of the day. He fellowshipped with his creatures Adam and Eve in the lush and plentiful Garden he had created. Sin destroyed this intimate fellowship, but through the life and death of Christ, we are able to again experience fellowship with God on a spiritual level now, and one day we will actually stand before him, and come to live in a world without death or pain! And this gift is a free gift, offered to everyone. Thanksgiving in a Biblical sense implies a proper understanding of our place before God, and God’s place above us. We are to replace the old pattern of our sin lives with a proper understanding of our place before God. Paul writes to the church in Ephesus: But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:3-4). Our lives now are to exhibit this precious fellowship with God through Christ – With the help of the Holy Spirit, we are to weed these things from our lives, not to earn our way to Heaven, but because they are out of place in the lives of those who have been brought into fellowship with God. And that precious fellowship is exhibited in us pouring forth thanksgiving. How simple, yet how difficult. Thanksgiving. On this day of Thanksgiving, give thanks for all of the blessings you enjoy – God truly gives lavish gifts, the greatest being the gift of Salvation. If you are mourning rather than rejoicing, if you are struggling, experiencing loss, remember that God is good, and his love endures forever – Take comfort in the hope we have in Christ. Give thanks for the visible blessings, but don’t forget the eternal blessings.Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.